A very Greenlandic experience

Saxon Blue's Blog
Harvey Jones and Andrea Stokes
Wed 28 Jul 2010 02:28
72:46.270N 55:38.964W Tuesday night

I was woken up this morning by the sound of propellers and thrusters going which always sounds really near but usually turns out to be half a mile away. When I got up, I was amazed to see a big merchant ship very close to us alongside the dock used by the fishermen. She was a Royal Arctic Line ship carrying everything the community needs - apart from oil, I suppose. She had a large crane on deck unloading 20 foot containers and a roll-on-roll-off ramp on the side with fork-lift trucks shifting pallets of stuff. There was gear everywhere - a boxed Yamaha outboard engine just sitting there on a pallet. On the deck sat a civilian version of a landing craft drawing only about 50cm and fitted with its own mini crane. This would be used to land anything needed into those villages with no proper dock. The whole thing was an amphibious assault ship for consumer durables.

We had a last few things to do in the morning before we left Upernavik. Andrea had to return her book to the museum, which turned into a bit of a saga as she couldn't contact the curator so we ended up leaving it with Eef on Tooluka to return tomorrow. The book has given Andrea an interesting perspective on her trip into the Arctic as it's about a young woman doing a similar thing in 1929. Even then, she talks of reduced numbers of seals and how "things aren't what they used to be". Our little friend Steven was with Andrea for ages and tried phoning the curator for her. He was with Kali when a loose dog ran towards them and she says he was completely terrified of it, insisting that she stood stock still with him. He even reported it to the Police while Kali took the opportunity of persuading them to let her use their only computer to access her emails. I love that - all the information on their PC about local ne'er do wells and there's Kali with full access.

I'd arranged to get 1500 litres of diesel delivered onto Saxon Blue by tanker at 2pm so we had to move over to the pier to do that. We had a bit of lunch and then got under way to the other side of the harbour where Dodo's Delight was now moored, also taking on fuel. Alongside her was another yacht - this place was getting like the Solent. The newcomer was another UK boat from Lymington and we briefly got to chat to her owners who are doing a similar trip to us. The diesel got loaded, the Police came down to stamp our passports out of Greenland and we said a sad goodbye to Eef and to Revd. Bob and the amazing climbers. We also said farewell to Steven and gave him a Saxon Blue T-shirt. He'd been fascinated with the logo on the back of my jacket and was really excited about having the same design himself. "Wow" was about all he managed to say.

Then we were finally off. Andrew, the skipper of the other UK yacht shouted over that he had an up-to-date ice chart for us and frantically paddled over while we bobbed about in the middle of the harbour. We thanked him profoundly and headed out of town. We were bound for an anchorage very close to the one where we'd first met Dodo's Delight but on a different island where Bob had told us there were old ruins. There we intended to make our plans for the next few days. As we motored along the fjords, we studied the newly acquired ice chart and realised that there was still far too much pack-ice between us and Clyde River on Baffin Island. Richard had also found out that he couldn't fly out of Upernavik until 11th August. We discussed our options and soon all came to the conclusion that we needed a "Plan B". We could just wait around here for a few days and then find that the ice didn't clear, by which time it would be too late for Richard to get home for the imminent birth. Not a good idea.

Our new plan is to book a flight from wherever we can in Greenland and then get there ourselves so Richard can definitely leave. We'll then get our next crew, Magnus, to fly into the same place. We can then relax about when (or if) the ice finally clears and make sure we have a good, safe crossing. It also means we get longer to explore this wonderful coast so it's good from that point of view as well.

The anchorage turned out to be really sheltered. We're tucked right in among the rocks with our anchor out ahead and lines ashore to 3 boulders. There's ice floating past but none in here and hardly a breath of wind either. We had a delicious dinner of Spanish Omlette and then went ashore to explore.

I'd seen a pile of stones on the way into the anchorage so we went there first. It turned out to be an ancient grave with some bones still inside. The stones had been piled up and a rough chamber left in the middle where the body had been placed. As we looked around, we found more similar graves which had complete skeletons in them, most with intact skulls visible. On the other side of the bay where Saxon Blue was moored, near the shore, we found the remains of half a dozen turf and stone built houses. As we followed the hill above them, there were yet more graves. None of them had been vandalised and one had a wooden coffin visible inside.

We can't tell how old the graves or the houses are. The Inuit have been living in turf houses and burying their dead in stone cairns for 1000 years and that didn't change much until very recently. It was the sense of continuity that is so strong here. Andrea and I sat on the top of the hill looking down the slope past the cairns and towards Saxon Blue, tied securely in the same natural harbour that these people would have used. Beyond that, the scenery is magnificent. Ranks of mountains that don't fade into the distance because the air is so clear. Behind them, you can see the Greenland icecap itself. The fjord is still full of fish and the cliffs are dotted with birds. It is an amazing place to live and they must have sat in the same place on such a sunny evening thinking similar thoughts. This place seems the most "Greenland" of anywhere we've been. It's remote, peaceful, wild but not frighteningly so and just stunningly beautiful. Andrea and I are both pleased that we're going to get a bit more time to explore here than we anticipated.


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